Twitter's Political Index uses tweets to gauge presidential race

Site tracks Twitter users' feelings about Obama and Romney

Twitter is looking to take the country's temperature when it comes to the presidential election in November.

The micro-blogging site today launched the Twitter Political Index, a tool to show in real time the popularity of President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney based on the millions of tweets being made about each candidate.

"One glance at the numbers, and it's easy to see why pundits are already calling 2012 'the Twitter election,' " wrote Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter. "More Tweets are sent every two days today than had ever been sent prior to Election Day 2008."

The unveiling of the political tool is in line with Twitter executives' expectations about the role the site will play in this year's presidential election in the United States.

In January, Dick Costolo, CEO of the social network, said he fully expected Twitter to play a major role in this election. "Gosh, I really think 2012 is going to be the Twitter election," he said at the time.

The Political Index takes a daily measurement of Twitter users' feelings towards the candidates by analyzing the nearly two million tweets made each week about them.

"For the first time, it's possible to measure conversations that just an election cycle ago were limited to coffee shops, dinner tables and water coolers," wrote Sharp. "Just as new technologies like radar and satellite joined the thermometer and barometer to give forecasters a more complete picture of the weather, so too can the Index join traditional methods like surveys and focus groups to tell a fuller story of political forecasts."

Sharp explained that the index evaluates the sentiment of all the tweets that reference Obama or Romney. For example, he noted that a score of 73 for a candidate shows that Tweets about that candidate are, on average, more positive than 73% of all tweets.

To build the index, Twitter teamed up with the data analysis team at Topsy, an online traffic tracker, as well as polling forms The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

The Political Index is set to be updated every day after 8 p.m. ET.

The new Twitter Political Index analyzes tweets about President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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